One of the top questions JazzMAD gets asked is what shoes should I wear to swing dance class? Here Sharon Davis tells you what shoes work and her favourite brands…
Updated 5th February 2020.
There’s no real rules for swing dance shoes. You just want a well-fitting shoe that clings to your foot without rubbing. Leather shoes breathe better and will last longer than synthetics, but cost more. Lindy Hoppers usually prefer flats or a low heel, no higher than around 1.5 inches. Balboa followers often prefer a higher heel, 2 or 2.5 inches. But as long as you can dance safely in your chosen heel height, it’s really just personal preference.
Traditionally, Lindy Hop was danced in street shoes – whatever you would wear to go out at night in the 1930s or 40s. Often this meant canvas tennis shoes (what we in the UK call “plimsolls”), or leather lace-up shoes like oxfords or brogues. Sometimes ladies would dance with a small heel or wedge. For dancing in heels you usually want a shoe that is closed or with straps, so it doesn’t come off your foot while dancing. Mary Jane or T-Bar styles were common. For balance, the heel shouldn’t be too skinny, so avoid stilettos, tango or latin shoes. Slingback styles usually aren’t secure enough.
The sole is the most important thing, but again, it’s really about personal preference. Rubber soles will be more sticky, which some prefer for dancing Lindy Hop fast (you can grip the floor). Leather soles will be very slippery, so this is better for spinning and sliding. For dancing Balboa or for smooth style swing you want to be able to slide. Suede soles are somewhere in between. Some dance shoes have a leather sole, but a rubber heel, so you can slide on your toes but stop by putting down your heel. But if you want to do heel slides, you’ll need a wood or leather heel.
Shoes that are made for swing dancers typically have a leather or suede sole. Or you can buy street shoes and have a cobbler glue a suede sole onto it (sometimes called “chroming”). Or you just might prefer dancing with rubber soles. Rubber soles often start out sticky, but get slippery as they wear down, so many dancers love their well-worn Keds or Toms.
The dance floor at JazzMAD’s studio is fairly slippery, so rubber soled shoes are usually fine for our class. If you wear your leather soled shoes in class, you will slide, but if that’s a skill or style you are working on then practicing it every class is recommended.
If you’re interested in buying swing dance shoes, below are the most popular brands in Europe. For London dancers, if you’re looking for a brick-and-mortar shop to try on shoes, head to Revival Retro Boutique (www.revival-retro.com). But beware you will want to buy everything at Revival! Or you can order online from SolesToSwing.com, who stock some of the European brands below. Both of these businesses are run by fabulous swing dancer lady bosses, so support women-run businesses in our community by buying from them!
Remix Vintage, £185-£230
Based out of Los Angeles, USA. Leather shoes that are recreations of styles from the 1920s-1950s. They aren’t officially dance shoes, but they all have leather soles and are beautifully made, so they are good for dancing in. In the UK buy them at Revival Retro Boutique (www.revival-retro.com), which is owned and run by a swing dancer. Beware, you will want to buy everything at Revival Retro!
Tranky Shoes, €160-€220
A newcomer to the market, these are Italian-made swing dance shoes. They are currently only available at their pop-up shops at swing dance festivals around Europe, and are not yet available to order online. Made from beautifully soft leather, these shoes need very little breaking in. Leather dance soles with hard heels. Lots of bright, happy colours available, as well as classic neutrals. Definitely some of the most comfortable swing dance shoes available. Great for all foot widths, because of the soft leather that moulds to your foot shape.
Slide & Swing, €125-€150
These are shoes made specifically for swing dancing, and I like them a lot. Mens and womens styles. leather soles. Nice designs, bright colours, comfortable and good quality. Leather is quite soft, and these shoes will suit wide as well as average width feet. Order them online from Spain.
A relatively new women’s shoe brand started in 2016, with shoes designed specifically for swing dancing and made in Portugal. They are promoted as being for street wear and dance wear, but actually I think the leather is too fine to last long as street wear, so personally I don’t wear my ankle boots outside. Maybe I’m too hard on my street boots? But Swivells’ soft and fine leather does make them very comfortable, and instantly wearable, no breaking-in time. The soles are hard leather (great for swivels) with a rubber heel, so no heel slides but great for twisting and sliding on the toe surface. Very stylish designs in Derbies and Ankle Boots, and lovely colour choices, including glitter, which gets my vote!
Swingz Lindy Shoes, €165
These are ladies’ swing dance shoes produced by a company that traditionally made Flamenco dance shoes. So the leather is very thick and a bit hard, so they take a bit longer to break in. But once they are molded to your feet, they are very comfortable and also last an extra long time. Really pretty styles, with low solid heels suitable for Lindy Hop. Order them online from Spain.
Saint Savoy, €192-€235
Another brand of shoe made just for swing dancers. Mens and womens styles. Again, perhaps the leather is a bit hard on some of these styles, so will take a while to break them in, but then they will last forever. Lovely unique styles, I think some of the best designs out there. Suited to an average or narrow width foot. Order them online from Austria.
Swingin Shoes, around €200
This shoe brand is a project by champion dancer and all-round badass chick Pamela Gaizutyte, produced in Lithuania. Swingin Shoes is a bit different in that they produce limited editions, each collection with a new design and a different theme or message. So snap them up when the next collection comes out! I haven’t owned a pair yet, but I’ve heard only good things and support my sister-in-swing in her cool venture!
Casual canvas shoes for both men and women, very popular with swing dancers (today and also back in the 1930s and 40s). The company supports and sponsors some swing dance events too, so we love them! Keds are street shoes, not swing dance shoes specifically, so they have a rubber sole that can be too sticky for dancing, but gets more slippery as they wear down. Some dancers have a suede sole glued on to them by a cobbler. In the UK you can buy them at Zalando.co.uk. Keep an eye out for sales, as you can often pick up a pair for £20.
Aris Allens, £50-£85
Casual swing dance shoes that are fairly cheap. This brand does plimsolls (similar to Keds in style) that already have a suede sole. You get what you pay for, so may find these don’t last as long as the other more expensive brands, or notoriously you might lose your sole mid-swingout (but it can be reglued). However, Aris Allens are very comfortable indeed and my generation grew up dancing in Aris Allens! You can buy them in the UK at www.swingdancestore.co.uk
Savoy Cats, €160-€180
This is the re-branded Spanish shoe label previously known as Savoy by Max Angelo, who have now cut all ties and association with Max and are continuing to make beautiful dance shoes under this new brand name. These shoes are a quality product made with love, and the swing dancers behind this business are good and honest people. Savoy Cats now even donate a portion of their profits to the charity Platforma Unitària Contra Les Violències de Gènere (United Front Against Gender Violence). They are Spanish-made leather dance shoes and boots in classic neutral tones. They have leather soles, double stitching for hard-dancing longevity, and a unique cork layer beneath the insole for shock absorption and moulding to the foot. From a shoe-making family going back generations. These shoes might take a few wears to break in and soften, but once they do they will last for many years. They are particularly suited to average and narrow width feet. The designs are very elegant I think, so they are a great cross-over shoe for casual social dancing or formal dress.